Illini wrestling team restarts practices with COVID-19 protocols

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Wrestling’s Twitter

Illinois wrestlers grapple during practice on Thursday. The wrestling team has recently restarted practices with new COVID-19 precautions.

By Isaac Heppner, Staff Writer

The Illini wrestling team has not suited up for practice since March. The COVID-19 pandemic forced all facilities to shut down, which caused the team to suspend all future practices and events. On Sept. 10, the team held its first practice with safety regulations and restrictions. 

“We have sections taped off on a mat, and we have to stay in that section,” said redshirt sophomore Danny Braunagel. “If we leave our section, we have to stop wrestling to minimize the amount of contact we have with others.”

With newly implemented Big Ten regulations, teams will be able to hold practices as long as contact is reduced and social distancing guidelines are enforced. The Illini will continue to practice for their upcoming season, which begins in early January. 

While normal practices won’t be held leading up to the beginning of the season, star senior Dylan Duncan and Braunagel both believe that they will be ready for the start of the season. The Illini are taking full advantage of these times and trying to make the most of these practices. 

“It’s been tough this year,” Duncan said. “There isn’t much we can do and we have been coming back into wrestling pretty slowly and it’s a hassle. We fight through it. Like water off a duck’s back, we keep going. It has almost made me more excited for the season to start.”

Getting back into practice doesn’t necessarily mean bringing the team back together completely. Most athletes gain their team chemistry outside of the gym doing activities together. Due to the COVID-19 regulations, athletes can not be spending much time together. 

“We want to hang out as a team,” Duncan said. “Now all of a sudden there are these restrictions and you can’t be hanging out with more than 6-7 people at a time. It’s ruined a lot of time to hang out together and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

Athletes were forced to work out individually for the rest of the spring and over the summer due to the COVID-19 regulations. Athletes could not enter Illinois facilities to practice or train during this time. Duncan and Braunagel both took similar approaches to get back to normal form. 

“When summer rolled around, I got a job down in Champaign at a local business, and that got me carrying things around and it helped me a lot,” said Duncan. “I started working out again and it taught me a lot mentally.”

“I didn’t take any summer classes with restrictions on scholarships due to COVID, so I ended up getting a job,” Braunagel said. “When we moved into our apartment here, a private facility opened up and that’s where I trained until things started getting back to normal.”

When the season starts up in January, both Braunagel and Duncan believe they are ready to start their season off right with no setbacks. Though the official schedule has not yet been released, the Illini feel that they have a strong enough team and will put in enough work to face any team that comes their way. 

“The situation we have here is a lot better than some other schools and we are very fortunate,” Braunagel said. “I think we’re gonna be well prepared. I think as a University we are taking full advantage of these times and making the best of them.” 

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